Monthly Archives: April 2010

Time to revisit my Uncle Norman and the beautiful redheaded stranger

Quite some time ago, back on my former blog, I wrote a piece about my uncle, Norman Lidster. I stated at that time that an ambition of mine was to complete a revision of his autobiography, No Time for Why – written (and self-published) back in the 1960s.

While it is a fascinating tale of a remarkably courageous man, and certainly a prominent icon in my life, it needs a lot of revision and heavy-duty editing. It also needs much more of a narrative than it possesses in its current state.

As such things happen, my ambition (after a reasonable start on the project) was trumped by other things in life and, while I had never forgotten the quest, I’d let it slide. You know how these things happen.

But, enter a bit of serendipity the other day. The serendipity revolved around the lovely, redheaded stranger. As I stated in the blog, at the reception following Norman’s funeral in 1977, a woman approached me from across the room. She was striking and charming. She asked me if I was Norman’s brother because the family resemblance was there. I asked her if she’d like to run away with me. No, I didn’t, but she was quite attractive. I told her that I was Norman’s nephew. We chatted for a time and she moved on to other people who were gathered.

Later I wondered, quite vainly, who she was. I asked my father and a couple of Norman’s sisters, but they hadn’t a clue. Just one of those mysteries in life that one has to accept, I assumed.

And now for the serendipity. Yesterday I received an email from a lady in Salisbury, England, named Sacha Hayward. She explained that she had read the aforementioned blog and that her aunt, who had just died at age 88, was a favorite nurse that Norman mentions in his book. She also mentioned that her other aunt – a redhead – had also spent some time with Norman in Victoria, BC, where he spent much of his life in a chronic care facility.

I was quite astounded, and also delighted to hear from her. She asked, of course, if I was still proceeding with the rewrite of the book. All I can say to that is, Sacha, thank you for goading me in this regard and providing some inspiration to get back to the task. She also said that if she were able to come across any further information, via old letters and so forth, she would gladly share them with me. To that I can only say, and I’ve told her this, I would be delighted.

As follows is an excerpt about Norman from that original blog:

I was in my mid-30s when Norman died in 1977. He died in his late 50s, which is not an advanced age in contemporary longevity, but it was a very long haul for a man as afflicted as he was.

Norman was the ‘rigid man.’ Smashed to a physical shell by a ghastly course of rheumatoid arthritis that began in his late teens, and which progressed with agonizing brutality for years he was, by his late 20s, utterly immobile (except for limited movement in his jaw and a couple of fingers) and, with insult troweled onto injury, completely blind. He was a fine brain, and I’ll suggest a soul — a very large soul — trapped inside a useless vessel. 

He was also one of the most astonishing men I’ve ever known. An opinion that is shared with vast numbers of people who came to know Norman over the years. Periodically, in later life, when I was going through some personal difficulties (difficulties that were tiny in comparison with his), I thought of Norman, and speculated that it would be good to talk with him at that moment, to get a kind of reality-check, a metaphorical kick-in-the-ass from him. He was good at that, and he never did it from a “poor me” perspective. While he was a very bright student in school, he was also a rebel and was actually expelled at one point for refusing to accede to a regulation he thought was draconian bullshit. Man, I like that about him.

Ultimately, Norman triumphed in his own way over this clinical cruelty, and it was likely his basic rebelliousness, and even waywardness that enabled, at least in part, that to happen. To ultimately be able to spit in the eye of the nefarious spirits that would drag him down, was triumph indeed. It was true courage. It was a victory of the human spirit. While he ultimately had great faith in God, he was also quite capable of saying “screw you” to his illness, and not let it drag him down into the pits of despair. He was candid in saying that for years he’d questioned God and was stuck in a “why me?” mode. Ultimately he realized he’d never progress if he got stuck in that place. Hence the title: ‘No Time for Why.’ Life was there to be lived and, all things considered, he did a mighty fine job of it.

 

 

 

 

What is our beautiful boy doing in another place?

I had an odd experience yesterday.

I was doing a bit of surfing to try to unearth a good photo of a place we’re planning to visit in the next while. I typed in my criteria on the Google line, punched in ‘images’ and awaited various bits of scenery. One, sitting at the top of a site tickled my fancy so I clicked on it.

What came up was one of those boxes asking if I wanted to open the file, save it, etc. Of course I wanted to open it. I found it was just what I was looking for. Then, as people do, I decided to move on to the other pictures, just to see what people had been calling up of late. Some people call up amazing things, other people call up vile and smutty things that even verge on the disgusting. But, it’s not my role to judge the predilections of others.

But, as I moved through an amazing item came up. It was a large picture of Max. I did a double take. It was definitely Max. But, it wasn’t Max in a familiar situation. I didn’t recognize the blanket, the room or the collar. It was pre-us Max. It was Max in his former life. Now, I know he was three-years-old when we got him in October, but I hadn’t thought much about that lately. We’ve reached the point of bonding that it seems like he has been part of our lives forever.

I made a copy of the photo and when Wendy got home I showed it to her. She too was a bit dumbfounded, but then she remembered something. She pulled out the Max file. It was his shelter photo. It was taken when he was in the ‘joint’.  Of course it was. It was the photo that had struck us when we were looking for a dog. It was the one about which my instinctive impulse had been: “He’s the one. We have to go and see that dog.” In fact, so sure did we feel that we even put a hold on him and told the people we wanted him even before we’d seen him in the flesh. It was a canine love at first sight.

So, there he was. Our beautiful dog looking out at the world and wondering what was to become of his life. For some reason I was hit with a kind of sad sentimentality, thinking how confused he must have been during that time. He’d had a home before then and it had been taken away from him. There he was stuck in stir with a bunch of other dogs and possibly wondering why his home had gone away.

So, when we actually met, there was no debate. We took him home that day. And there has honestly not even been a moment when we thought we made a mistake. He has opened up our lives and pushed things into new dimensions. I doubt that he has any inkling of what he means to us.

But, that’s OK, because we know. When we initially decided we wanted a dog, we wanted a mid-sized, possibly female, possibly border collie-ish of good disposition and manners and neutered.

What we got was a great big neutered male, possibly smooth collie of brilliant disposition and manners.

And we love him to bits. We couldn’t be happier and I hope all memories of those days have now been erased from his mind.

Once, when we’d had him for about a month, we were standing in front of a shop, and our car was parked nearby. A woman looked over at the car and asked: “Is his name Max, by any chance?”

We said it was and asked why she had guessed his name. She told us that a friend in Nanaimo had owned a dog named Max who looked just like ours. Well, we had gotten him from the shelter in Nanaimo, so it was possible.

“Just coincidence,” I replied, feeling just the tiniest twinge of jealousy that he might have shared bed and board with somebody else in his former life.

I know that is true. But, now he’s our dog damn it!

‘Hey, kids — let’s talk about S-E-X!’

Oh, groan, not a sex-ed panic once again.

Can’t we just accept the fact there is no such thing as a valid sex education program for schools, forget about it, and then just let people go and do what people do to either get their ashes hauled or to perpetuate the species. Though, considering the global population, maybe there’s just too much darn perpetuating going on these days.

Let’s say, however, for the sake of argument, that somebody does actually develop a really good, effective and honest sex ed program. It’s still not going to fly. It’s not going to fly for two primary reasons: 1) Regardless of its scope, honesty and potential effectiveness, somebody is going to object to the content – “Ooh, ick, people do that? – and threaten to pull their kids from school and firebomb the schoolboard office; 2) Any political leader with serious considerations of having a future in public office is going to wimp out and make sure the smut doesn’t get off the drawing board.

In this country, in a far away place called Ontario – a geopolitical entity that is extremely important in Canadian context, if only in the eyes of Ontarians, the rest of us just chuckle and think of the Maple Leafs hockey team – the premier of the place, one Dalton McGuinty, has suggested there should be a “rethink” on the province’s proposed new sex education changes. He thinks they should rethink because there is a lot of content that certain God-fearing (or even Allah-fearing, which is important these days) constituents might find questionable – i.e. ‘dirty.’ 

Among the pivotal elements some might see as smutty and encouraging of bad behavior on the part of Ontario’s unblemished youths are contents that include auto-eroticism ponderings for grade 6 students (no truth to the rumor that the chapter is entitled Let Your Fingers Do the Walking). At first glance I thought – yeah, what a bad thing; what kid in grade six has ever thought of having a personal solo house-party? Now we’ve gone and planted the suggestion.

A larger bone (term used advisedly) of contention comes with the 7th grade material, which gets into such esoterica as oral and anal sex, which is bound to bring out the “ooh-ick” brigade in their numbers. What, oral and anal sex in the 7th grade? We didn’t know about that stuff until at least the 8th grade.

Of course, part of the problem arises from the fact that the original protocols for this new program kind of suggest that Ontario might actually have gay students. Yes, Ontario, even you. This is bound to result in scathing outbursts of outrage in those people who knew that sneaking the writings of Oscar Wilde into lit courses was going to set the province well on the road to hell.

Part of the problem with the proposed program was that it dared to suggest that homosexuality was ‘normal’. Proportionately the actually numbers are lower than heterosexual numbers, but it is no longer considered, in the eyes of the authors of the program, a deviant behavior. Well, there you go. Again, the God-fearing know this is wrong, and they ‘know’ it’s a mortal sin.

 

About all this, my first concluding thought is: Why in hell can’t kids today learn about sex on the street like we did? We made out OK, and we had some pretty progressive kids in that regard in my neighborhood, and we didn’t even need a lot of coaching to work things out. I’m being facetious, of course, so don’t pillory me. Actually an honest sex ed program would be a desirable thing, were it possible. The point of the foregoing screed is that I don’t believe it is possible.

My second concluding thought is: are you going to leave this stuff in the hands (as it were) of teachers. In the first place, they’re busy enough trying to explain why so many people on Facebook don’t seem to know how to spell, and secondly, are they qualified? Maybe some are, and currently there have been some teachers enhancing their curricula vitae with student participation in the research – highly not recommended. Yet, I am a qualified teacher, and reasonably adept in sexual processes, but I wouldn’t want to touch this one. I had a difficult time explaining to an irate parent years ago why I thought National Lampoon was a good example of contemporary satire. Said parent was fuming because she found her daughter reading a spoof confessional story called ‘Her first blowjob’. “How dare you recommend such filth to my daughter (who was a senior)?” the parent queried.

Of course, this was in the days before Bill Clinton’s reign, when people were still relatively ignorant of such quaint practices. And Premier McGuinty, it seems, would like to keep it that way.

It was 11 years ago tomorrow that ‘Chuckles’ came into our lives

Plantation Hale

Having departed the Lihue Airport on the Island of Kauai, we are driving northward along the east coast of the island, towards the small towns of Wailua and Kapaa. Before us the scenery opens up into a wondrous vista of tropicality, with the azure Pacific to the right, and the hills leading up to the summit of Waialeale, which is always enshrouded in cloud.

I feel such an exultation that mere words cannot express my internal rejoicing. It is very early in the morning on that day, April 24, 1999. We’d arrived at 2 a.m. to Honolulu, and our first interconnecting flight to Kauai didn’t transpire until 5 a.m. So, Wendy and I (today celebrating our 11th anniversary) spent our wedding night lying on hard benches outside the Honolulu terminal. Despite the discomfort and our fatigue, we were immensely happy.

Prior to Honolulu, we had flown for 5 ½ hours from Vancouver after our wedding at a hotel near the airport. It was a very small wedding, by design. Since we had both been down the matrimonial path before, we didn’t want bells and whistles. My best ‘man’ was Cristina, my dear friend and closest female friend in the world, and Wendy’s ‘maid of honor’ was her younger brother. Hell, we’d gone the conventional route before and it hadn’t worked out, so we thought we’d opt for the eccentric. We were married by a delightful marriage commissioner in a suite at the Delta Hotel, who regaled us with the tale that the previous people she’d married at the hotel was an Asian couple in which the man’s surname was ‘Fuk’. She told us she had a very difficult time not collapsing into giggles every time she uttered the name.

So, after the ceremony and dinner at the hotel with a handful of friends and sundry family members, we took off and embarked towards my favorite place on the planet.

Back to the tale of Wedding Day Plus One.

We arrived at the condo we’d booked too early to register and the man at the desk told us to come back in an hour to get booked in. We were staying at the Plantation Hale (where we’ve stayed many times since, and I had actually stayed at a priori) and Wendy was ultimately to get to meet the notorious ‘Chuckles.’ Chuckles was a very dignified looking Asian lady who dominated all that happened at the Hale, and she rarely cracked a smile, but regarded one with a certain ‘look’ over her half-glasses. We christened her with the name. I cannot recall what her true name was. But, the last time we were there, in 2008 we learned that Chuckles had passed away. We were saddened by the news.

Anyway, the fact we were asked to come back later didn’t pose a problem, even though we were longing for bed. No, not for the obvious ‘honeymoon’ reasons – we had, after all, been living together for more than a year prior to the nuptials – but because we were exhausted by both the flight and the few hours on the airport benches. We just wanted to hit the sack. Honolulu (despite the exotic nature of the destination) is a really crappy terminal with absolutely no consideration in terms of soft seating or services for arriving passengers.

Not only were we bone-weary, but we were also extremely hungry. As it was still only 6 a.m., and Kapaa is a very small town, we wondered if anything was open. What was open was McDonald’s. OK, McMuffins it would be, and I practically salivated at the prospect of our Day 1 marriage breakfast.

We got our McMuffins and our coffee and we sat at a table. Local fishermen seemed to be the only other customers at such a time. They were a weather-beaten crew, leathery faces bearing testament to their time under a beating tropical sun as they fished. We thought they were blissful company.

At about 6:45 the sun came over the ocean horizon and it beamed in through the McWindows.  I can only say that I had never before, and have never since, felt quite as blissful as I sat with my new bride being caressed by the sun in a prosaic McDonald’s that morning in April 11 years ago. The feeling still floods back to me.

Face the facts; many of us are doomed to a premature demise

Two potentially ominous items of information that have come to light recently have told me that maybe I shouldn’t buy the green bananas, or at least not pick up a seedling at the nursery in hopes of seeing it reach maturity.

The first one was, if you don’t have all your own teeth well into middle age, then you’re hooped. Your chances of reaching a ripe old are diminished. That’s according to doctors who opine that bad teeth that led to extraction just may be sending low-level toxins through your system and will be foreshortening your life. My first thought about this was: Ha, try telling that to Walter Brennan, dadburn it!

Yet, I must confess, I do not have all my own original teeth. I grew up in the days when dentists and butchers were often confused so I went for a long time in adulthood not taking the best care of my teeth. I assumed modern dentists were like the sadistic swine I went to as a kid. I was wrong, I found out, when I finally (through the route of excruciating pain) decided to get my teeth tended to. So, now I have to own up to the fact that while my teeth look very pretty, shiny and white, they aren’t all my own. Some are. Some aren’t. I’m not about to tell anybody which are which.

The other distressing item trotted out by the medical fraternity all the time is that the older we get the more important it is that we sleep long and hard because need it and if we don’t bag all those needed zees we’re going to die prematurely. So, I guess I’m doubly-hooped. I haven’t slept long and hard for years. I mean, I sleep OK for the most part, but I don’t generally sleep hard. Should an interloping flatulent mouse come into the room and break wind, I’ll awaken. I also don’t sleep late. I’m often shuffling about in the morning darkness. I don’t really mind. It’s a quiet time and good for meditation and drinking coffee. Truly, if I make it to 5:30, even on a weekend I feel kind of slothful. But, the docs tell me it’s killing me slowly. Damn.

I would like to have those same sawbones tell me how I might go about sleeping longer. I won’t take sleep aids, I no longer drink, and tapping my wife on the shoulder for an encounter at 4:30 wouldn’t be highly appreciated. I mean, I know that sex is a wonderful inducement to blissful sleep, but practical considerations preclude except on very special occasions.

So, I honestly don’t know what various medical consortiums get out of telling people that things over which they have little control are well on the way to taking them out. I mean to say, I’m doing the best I can what with diet, exercise, lifestyle modification and all those other factors, yet they now say because my left-side molar was yanked out 25-years-ago, I might as well not worry so much about those other things. It’s sort of like the old Calvinist belief in predestination which suggested that no matter how virtuous your life was, if you were doomed to Hell you were still going to be down there stoking the furnaces.

In truth, I don’t like doctors very much. I don’t mean personally. A favorite uncle is a medical specialist, and I have friends who ply the quackery trade. What I should say, perhaps is I don’t like what they do. In the first place, they don’t practice what they preach for the most part, and secondarily, they always fill me with guilt. I could never be a genuine hypochondriac because I detest going to the doctor because they always make me feel guiltier than cops or airport security buffoons do. I am filled with fear when I get ushered into the ‘little room’ because I am either going to get shit for something I should have been doing, or he is going to find that my blood pressure has shot up to 240 or I have so much cholesterol that they could grease a griddle with my blood. This is not to cast aspersions on my current doctor. He’s a very nice chap. Waaaaaaaaaaaay too young, but a good guy who seems to know what he’s talking about. But, I still hate going to him.

A couple of weeks ago I had to have a prescription renewed and my regular MD was away so I had to settle for a locum. In this particular encounter, my view of the medical profession changed for the nonce because I had a female doctor. Not only a female, but also a rather lovely and lively person who introduced herself by her first name and added no honorific. In fact, it would be fair to say that my substitute doctor was a hottie. Of course I fell in love with her almost immediately and toyed with asking for a complete physical, but refrained. I did, however, think that I truly am egalitarian in terms of women in the professions and it might be most agreeable to have such a person tend to all my needs. I think it could keep me looking after my health even more fastidiously, and I would look forward to appointments with more enthusiasm.

But, since she was a locum, such a thing would not come into being, and next time I’ll be with my regular guy and I’ll feel guilty and frightened once again.

Some things just perplex me

As I endeavor, sometimes vainly, but usually successfully (albeit grudgingly at moments) to make my way through the era in which I live, I am nevertheless left with thoughts and attitudes that may or may not be fair but that’s just the way I am. Uninvited, I will share these with you to make as you will of them.

–         Teeny-weeny bicycles ridden by loutish-looking teens: Helmet less (always) they ride up and down the street, usually a clutch of them (possibly sizing up houses they might want to break into), and they are astride tiny little bicycles of the sort I first learned to ride on when I was quite young. What’s that all about? Why aren’t they riding big bikes? What am I missing about this? They aren’t dirt bikes, they’re just kiddie-sized velocipedes. I would have been mortified to have ridden such a thing. Does this go on elswhere or is it a localized thing? 

–         Older kids using scooters: On a similar subject. In days of yore one used a scooter before one had developed sufficient balance skills to ride a 2-wheeler. Now I see kids of 9 or 10 using what is to me an infant toy akin to the tricycle. Why is this? Is it all part of the arrested development thing that also sees 28-year-olds still sleeping in their old high school pennant bedecked bedrooms at Mom and Dad’s house, and not paying rent for the privilege? Just asking.

–         Mammoth tattoos on females: On the current issue of Entertainment Weekly I was glancing at in my supermarket I saw a photo of moderately pretty but outrageously overhyped for such a boring woman, Angelina Jolie. It was a bare-back shot and she has a bunch of written junk tattooed on her back well up above the clichéd tramp-stamp stuff one might expect. Enscriptions that have meaning to her, I guess. My question is, how is such defacement deemed attractive by anyone? But, of course, my bias is that I hate tattoos, and especially revile them on any woman other than a Maori whale-rider. I don’t just mean cute li’l rosebud tattoos, but masses of the hideous things on otherwise pretty girls. When I think of Jesse James betraying Sandra Bullock for rumpy-pumpy with his tattooed mistress I can only believe he deserves whatever fate has in store for him.

–         Green as marketing ploy:  Earth Day is coming up on the 22nd of this month. Earth Day is generally a good thing, and I believe was more of a good thing when it had some genuine meaning. But now that all the corporate boys and girls have got on the ‘green’ bandwagon the whole thing is getting nauseating. “It’s not easy being green,” said Kermit and there is validity to the thought. It shouldn’t be all that easy to be green and it should involve a bit of sacrifice and effort, but just merely switching detergents because some manufacturer is trying to impress you with its sensitivity and environmental awareness. As Carl Sandberg once opined, “Even God gets tired of too much hallelujah.”

–         Awards shows: Virtually nobody watches these entertainment ego-fests only of interest to those in the business, so why do we still have them?

–         Not so fast, folks: No matter how advanced we think we are, we are yet to gain mastery over so-called Acts of God. Witness the Icelandic volcano, the SE Asian tsunami or Hurricane Katrina. These things really screw us up regardless of how in control we might delude ourselves into believing.

–         Rumor has it: That 211-year-old Elizabeth Taylor is getting married again. Ick.

A chance for us to become genuinely cool

Every so often an idea is trotted out that makes me pay attention. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does I am delighted when something makes me say: “Yes, that works.”

As Canadians know, but others may not, we have this nonsensical exalted position in Canada known as the Governor General. The GG is designed to be our direct link with Mrs. Queen, head-of-state of the so-called Mother Country. Although, considering the situation in the UK these days, despite being the huge anglophile that I am, I cannot feature the Mother Country ‘mothering’ a nest of gerbils. But, that is neither here nor there.

The GG is something we have and it is usually populated by individuals deemed to be of some sort of significance to all Canadians, though that is rarely the case. A lot of them are just ward heeling political appointments that amount to a returned favor, or simply really boring people. In truth, our current GG, Michaelle Jean, is a bit of a departure from the standard pattern. She is pretty cool, quite beautiful, immensely cultured but not in a self-important way like her predecessor the egomaniacal Adrienne Clarkson, and an all-round nice broad. So, Mme. Jean gets the boot at the end of the summer and we have to have somebody to take her place.

Now, back to that idea I mention in the first paragraph. There is currently a Facebook campaign to make Leonard Cohen our Governor-General. How cool is that? The guy is a giant internationally. Terribly talented, witty, urbane, cultured, spiritual, bilingual and a personal favorite, so of course I buy into the idea. I have no idea about Mr. Cohen’s feelings about the matter, but hopefully he can be persuaded. Hopefully too our political weasels can be, though a body can’t count on that.

Cohen is a novelist, most noted for Beautiful Losers (about which he confesses he was stoned out of his gourd when he penned it), a songwriter of some superlative stuff like Suzanne and Sisters of Mercy, a poet of the first order (eat your heart out Lou Reed, as much as I like what you do), unlike those frauds, poptarts and poetasters of the 1960s that sucked adolescents into their sensitivity (of his poetry I once saw a performance of Cohen’s You Have the Lovers performed by two dancers of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and will confess it was arguably one of the most erotic things I’ve ever witnessed), a philosopher, and by now, in his 70s, a very spiritual man 

Other people have been suggested as possible GG candidates, with a strong contender being Rick Hansen who in 1985, as a paraplegic, circumnavigated the globe in a wheelchair in his Marathon of Hope. Pretty inspiring and gutsy man and a charming and bright fellow to boot. Great credentials at all levels. And Mr. Hansen is certainly a deserved icon in his own right.

But, I still opt for Cohen. Maybe it’s something to do with being a child of the ‘60s.